“There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I’m the first to admit that I used to hate cooking (shocking. I know). I came late to the game of cooking – 37 years in, in fact. As the oldest daughter of an amazing Polish mother who whipped up delicious meals seemingly from nothing, you’d think the gift of cooking would have been passed down to me and not my two younger sisters (the youngest of whom just happens to feed delicious organic meals to half of Melbourne for a living now).
I spent a lot of time ‘supervising’ J in the kitchen while I was growing up. I chatted away to my mum and sisters, leaning on the kitchen bench, glass of chilled white wine in hand, while they created all the meals. Making and sharing food was (and still is) something that unites my family. While I loved the eating and connecting part, I rebelled against the idea of learning to cook because I was scared where it could lead. As a budding entrepreneur, the idea of being chained to the kitchen sink scared the bejesus out of me – I wanted to be free to develop my own creativity without being forced into a role that was expected of me.
How my Polish roots led me here…
My mother’s parents, Piotr and Jadwiga, were captured at a very young age in Poland during World War II. They were sent to Dachau concentration camp which is located across the road from Auschwitz. They survived the ordeal and escaped to Germany, where my mum was born.
They mostly chose not to talk about their experience, but I know the hardship they endured changed them. In 1950, they decided to move to Australia and set sail with their young family on a boat called ‘Skaugum’ that docked in Fremantle. They took the risk and created a new life for themselves.
I grew up in a very different environment. Born in Adelaide, raised in Melbourne, my mum stayed home to take care of us girls. By the time my youngest sister began school, my mum started working full-time again. She’d pack us all off to school, tackle the daily one-hour return commute on a train and in the evenings she went on to prepare a home-cooked family dinner every night of the week.
Fuelled by a tight budget as well as the health benefits, my mum preferred to create her own meals rather than rely on takeaway dinners. Sharing the food together as a family was always the most important part of the night as it was a chance to chat with one another and share the stories of our day. It’s a tradition I’m keen to pass on to my son.
I’m finally starting to put into practice those cooking skills I observed whilst ‘supervising’. I still wonder how my mum made it all look so effortless though!
What foodie habits can you trace back to your childhood? Are there any meals that evoke sweet memories, or smells that take you back to a certain period in your life? I’d love for you to share them in the comments below.